Following the announcement that former President Donald Trump has officially been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, Republican lawmakers are finding themselves in an all-too-familiar position: rallying to defend him.
On Thursday, the grand jury announced that it would indict Trump for charges related to hush money payments made to porn performer Stormy Daniels, making him the first former president to be the subject of a criminal case. Since the news broke of the charges against Trump, congressional Republicans have broadly come to his defense, framing the indictment as an instance of political persecution.
Previously, House Republicans announced that they’d like to bring in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — the prosecutor who pursued charges against Trump — for testimony in order to raise questions about the case. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reiterated those plans Thursday evening, arguing on Twitter that Bragg “weaponized our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump” and promising “the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account.”
Arguing that Trump is innocent and being unfairly targeted by Democrats is one of two strategies Republicans routinely employ when Trump is in trouble, the other being to avoid the subject when the former president has done something incredibly difficult to defend. This playbook has been apparent following a federal raid at his residence in Mar-a-Lago, during his impeachment trials, and even during his first presidential campaign. It’s also one Trump has used prominently himself, dubbing his second impeachment a “witch hunt,” for instance.
For some Republicans, Trump’s indictment raises the question of just how much baggage the party should put up with. As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a likely presidential competitor — noted in remarks responding to the expected indictment earlier this month, there are other candidates who don’t have quite so many issues weighing them down. “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis quipped in a news conference. “I just, I can’t speak to that.”
Republicans’ willingness to continue shielding Trump amid the indictment drama, however, suggests that a large segment of the party is still very much supportive of the former president.
A non-exhaustive list of times Republicans have defended — or condoned — Trump
A review of Republicans’ long history of rushing to Trump’s defense — or refusing to condemn his actions — suggests this support is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Other instances include GOP responses to everything from his policy decisions, like the implementation of a travel ban, to his personal misconduct, including more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct:
January 6: Though some Republicans initially criticized Trump for his role in inciting the riot at the Capitol in 2021, in the end, most returned to the president’s side, with some even minimizing the insurrection. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), for instance, said that it “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me” in February 2021. Similarly, most Republicans balked at supporting the January 6 committee in the House, which was tasked with investigating the insurrection and Trump’s responsibility in it.
Covid-19: Since the start of the pandemic, Trump has downplayed the severity of the virus and framed public policy responses around masking and testing as oppressive. According to a study from the medical journal The Lancet, 40 percent of the Covid-19 deaths in the US in the first year were avoidable; the researchers blamed Trump’s approach for some of those deaths, as well as the US’s poor public health infrastructure. Congressional Republicans were slow to break from Trump on the issue, though some eventually did. “I think he’s done a good job, I do,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) told Politico in May 2020.
Ukraine quid pro quo: The first impeachment of Trump centered on his conditioning of aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. Sen. Mitt Romney was the only Republican to vote for his conviction, while Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican turned independent, was the only one to cross party lines in the House. At the time, most in the party argued that Trump’s actions were not an impeachable offense and that Democrats were overreaching.
Controversial immigration policies, including a travel ban: Multiple Trump immigration policies also split Republicans, with many openly condemning his actions. One proposal was the travel ban, which barred travel by citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
In this case, a number of top Republicans spoke out against the policies, while a handful of conservative lawmakers aligned themselves with Trump. “It’s very prudent to say, ‘Let’s be careful about who comes into our country to make sure that they’re not terrorists,’” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) said of the travel ban in 2017.
Racist comments: There have been numerous instances of Trump making racist remarks, which have prompted muted Republican response. As president, Trump targeted the four women lawmakers of color in “the Squad” and said they should “go back” to where they’re from, prompting attendees at a rally to chat “send her back” regarding Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). In 2020, Trump also made racist comments about Black Lives Matter protesters, calling them “thugs” and tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Though many Republicans stopped short of supporting Trump’s remarks, few expressly condemned them, either. In the case of Trump’s tweets about the Squad, for example, the House voted to condemn Trump’s statement with only four Republicans supporting the rebuke.
Alleged sexual misconduct: At least 26 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct including forcible kissing, groping, and rape. Trump has denied these allegations, and Republicans have broadly accepted his position. “All I would say: We live in an environment where people can come forward. That’s good. But allegations like this have to be cautiously reviewed,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told Politico in 2019 in response to rape allegations made by journalist E. Jean Carroll.
Update, March 31, 9 am: This story has been updated to reflect that Trump has been indicted and to include updated statements.